Q&A: My Son Stole Alcohol from Us

Teen parenting expert Rosalind Wiseman on how to rebuild trust in your teenager when he raids the liquor cabinet and shares what he took with other underage drinkers.

Q. I found out that my son stole alcohol from our liquor cabinet and took it to a friend's party. Should I tell the friend's parents or just deal with my son privately?

A. You get to do both! First up is your son. He stole, which is obviously wrong no matter what he took. And he stole alcohol, which is illegal and dangerous. His actions also show his willingness to take big risks (like getting something important past you and the host's parents) to demonstrate his "maturity" to his peers. For all these reasons, you need to take a strong stand.

Reiterate your values about stealing and drinking, and tell him he now has to work to rebuild your faith in him, starting with calling the other parents to apologize. After this he should turn over the phone to you. While he's listening, start off the conversation by admitting how embarrassing this is for you. Then apologize on behalf of your family, ask whether there's anything else you should know about your son's behavior at the party, and explain briefly how you are holding your son accountable. When you hang up tell your son that by apologizing he's on the road to rebuilding your trust. Then put a lock on your liquor cabinet.

Originally published in the July 2007 issue of Family Circle magazine.